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Artist – At – Sea


Alice Clark | Artist – At – Sea

Catalyst Arts, in partnership with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, are delighted to present Artist – At – Sea; an artist residency on board an oceanographic research vessel operating from the port of Belfast.

Using specialist acoustic technologies, fishing gear and instrumented buoys, the RV Corystes undertakes a diverse programme of marine environmental research throughout the Irish Sea. Data from surveys such as high resolution seabed mapping, and ground-truthing data collecting of marine habitats and fish stocks, is enabling AFBI to examine the impact of climate change for environmental policies in the future. The integrated marine science programme delivered by the Corystes aims to support the sustainability and development of Irish Sea fisheries.

To highlight the significant research being carried out by AFBI, Belfast based artist Alice Clark will be onboard as artist-in-residence throughout August and September. Clark’s practice reflects her own ecological ethos and investigates the way we live and its impact on the natural environment. Making objects of nature subjects of culture is at the core of her practice and she wishes to challenge where the current condition of nature resides as a subject for artistic intervention and discourse.

After a medical examination and sea survival course, Clark will set sail and take residence on two research cruises; observing the scientists, engaging with the crew and developing work within a site and context specifically tailored to her practice.

Boarding RV Croystes for 8am departure

Depart Belfast Docks for Irish Sea: Thursday 20th August




Saturday 22nd August
Well, day 2 at sea is nearly over and I’ve been busy observing, drawing, thinking, photographing. Day 1 saw me feeling very under the weather but between rushing to lie down, I did manage to do some drawings in my cabin with a suspended pen over paper. Beautiful evening light yesterday looking west towards the Mournes and Dundrum with the gannets still following the boat hoping for cheap pickings.  Flat calm today, much more to my liking!

 I can’t get in to my own emails so am using the ship’s email. I don’t know whether I’ll see replies but I probably will. Lovely crew on board and looking after me well!


dundrum bay


Sunday 23rd August
We are at the third station of the day with a beam trawl going in now trailing the bottom of the sea for young nephrops. Then comes the big trawl and near a ton of fish and nephrop are landed, sorted, weighed, measured and whatever else while the sea birds swoop around waiting for what is chucked over board. You vegetarians would not like this assignment! Lot of filleting of fish goes on when the scientists have done their bit. These then go in the dry lab freezer bagged up with people’s names on. I will be bringing home some ling and cod!

I’ve been on deck doing continuous line drawings of swooping gannets. The speed at which they fly means there is no accuracy but a sense of movement and speed.

Should be back sometime on Tuesday afternoon I believe. Hoping the wild weather in the English Channel doesn’t get this far north……………….




Tuesday 25th August
Well, safely back at home thanks to Ruaidhri for coming to the docking of the Corystes late last night and giving me a lift. Four days at sea was quite something. After day 1 when I felt so awful, things really improved and I was fine. I settled down to a routine of setting up drawing machinery, leaving it to do its work, going up on deck and watching as trawl after trawl was made at the various allocated stations. There were 24 stations to be trawled in the space of four days. The main focus were the nephrops – prawns to you and me – but everything else that came up in the nets was measured, weighed, sexed and aged.

This nephrop survey is done once a year and is to analyse the health of stocks, changes in patterns, distribution and so on. Eventually the data is passed on to the EU fishery experts who use it, and that from other research vessels in Europe, to set fishing quotas.

Once everything had been weighed and measured, and sometimes the total catch would be getting on for a tonne, the crew picked off the big nephrops, the cod and haddock and then filleted them there and then and popped them in the freezer to take home at the end of the trip. I have a small bag of ling, cod and mackerel, personally filleted for me!  Then the rest of the catch is dumped out to sea where it is eagerly awaited by the gannets and gulls. I spent much time trying to capture their movements in fast drawings and will send you some. Only the dog fish survive to swim again. The others, having come up from the deep, are in a state of shock and die quickly. Apparently this is why it is so difficult to tag fish as you might birds to find out their migrating patterns. It is a sorry sight to see.

Signing off for now,






Here are some drawings out of my sketch book. They do all have titles if that helps. I’ll try to scale them all up when next on board…..maybe I can record the cackle and fighting of the gannets as they compete for the biggest fish thrown back off the boat into the water. Want some gannets under water photos? 




28th August 2015
Great send off last night! Never had such a crowd. Did you manage to work out how to monitor / record live date on the ship’s path through the Irish sea? Whole day at anchor off the isle of Man getting acoustic equipment set up under ship which requires great precision with 3 triangulated stands of fishing wire!
I am sorry I missed seeing you and waving. Acoustic sea mammal survey team also on board so lots more for me to observe and record.


laxey Bay


30 August 2015
This is the end of the third day of my second trip and the conditions have been fabulous today after choppy, to say the least, earlier conditions. The first day, 28 August, we were anchored at Laxey Harbour off the Isle of Man so the scientists could attach a 8 cm in diameter metal sphere under the ship. From this they send out sonic waves which record an echo from the swim bladders of herring. The echo then registers as a mark on a screen and a trawl of that mark, or aggregation, starts. To fix the metal sphere under the ship was a critical task but seemed to rely on a triangulation of three pieces of fishing wire! How it was done I can’t work out but once in position there was much calibration going on so the readings would be accurate.

Yesterday we were up off the coast of southern Scotland and today we have been going up and down transacts off the coast of North West England alongside the enormous offshore windfarm at Barrow. The catches consist of sprat, small herring and some large jelly fish that get caught in the net. This is the spawning ground for herring. The mature fish are to be found further off shore and nearer the Isle of Man where we will hopefully go later in the week.

The two marine animal researchers on board spend hours watching out for sightings from the bridge or listening to the sounds of the animals under water. So far we have seen minke whales but they have picked up no sounds on their underwater acoustic device.

I have been drawing, filming and am beginning to do some sound recording.

Bye for now!


light play
little man on top deck!


7 September 2015
My time at sea has run out, and a day or two earlier than expected, as the Corystes developed engine problems and had to limp slowly back to Belfast to get sorted. Corystes has been in active use by AFBI for 11 years or so and although it has proved very robust it is apparently coming towards the end of its active life as a science vessel. On my tour of the engine room, which looks remarkably retro in 2015, I could see that more modern technologies might be on the horizon. Costs permitting of course.

On Tuesday we eventually left Laxey after a more successful calibration attempt. One of the complications was that with a full moon you have spring tides and excessive currents under the ship make this all the more difficult. The only window of opportunity is when the tides are slack – the half hour or so at the top of high or low tide. But no one seemed to get too frustrated or anxious. Work at sea, and with uncontrollable natural elements, leads to a philosophy of acceptance.
control room
With the scientists waiting for slack tides and not so busy I was able to talk to them about their research. I was told that the Irish Sea is now 2 degrees warmer than it used to be, though I don’t have a date for the earlier temperatures. It is now 15.6 degrees or so. This temperature is too high for cod and they are tending to change their habitats to more northerly climes. The stocks in the Irish Sea are low but in the Bering Sea, which is opening up due to ice loss in the Arctic, the stocks are now enormous and catches of one million tons are now permitted.
This is a live screen showing the relationship between salinity and temperature as we moved through the Irish Sea. I couldn’t work out whether there was any correlation at all! The acoustic lab on board is where the serious analysis of data goes on. 
This is a live feed of the herring acoustic survey. Unfortunately on the outer edges of the set places the Corystes visits each year for this survey, there wasn’t much shoal activity. When we did slow down to fish, following an acoustic ‘sighting’ the catches were small and mostly of sprat.

Meanwhile I was busy doing more drawing, working with dead fish. 

I also used the GoPro inside a bucket while mackerel were being line caught, for fun not research! The footage is not for watching if you are a bit squeamish!
As we approached Northern Ireland, I took photos of the live feed from the sea bed mapping screen in the acoustic lab. The Corystes has done much of this mapping over the years including many adventures mapping the Continental Shelf off the west coast of Scotland for which its seaworthiness seemed to leave  a bit to be desired!

This shows the Corystes passing the Copeland Islands and heading to port. I love the representation of this map, at one level digital and at another very artistic. The white areas, as if masking tape shapes had been lifted from a drawing, are where the sea bed has not yet been mapped.


Conclusive thoughts to follow but so many thanks to Catalyst for giving me the opportunity to be an artist at sea and of course to all aboard the Corystes who made me feel very welcome and who opened my eyes to a different perspective on our world. The horizon and the idea of vanishing points, as land disappears from sight, are part of the legacy for me, as an artist, of this extraordinary trip.
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